Chapter Nine: Hammer of the Emperor

Sergeant Heller stepped over the corpse without looking down, they were traitors, neither wanting nor deserving of any amount of remorse. Jans had joined them with one other man, meaning that Heller had just over a squads worth of soldiers to accomplish a task designated for his entire platoon. Things were not looking good. He looked around at the men before him before speaking, each with the same grim, desperate expression on his face.

"Okay people, we only have a few minutes before the enemy figures out where we are and comes in to blow the hell out of us... Marshall Niekers is dead, along with sergeants Josen and Lark, and sergeant Mikovich. We are all that's left." He let the reality of the situation sink in before continuing, unsure of exactly what he would say next... "This means we had damn well better do our jobs right. If we want any hope of reinforcements, we need to take out those Hydra platforms. Those will be our main objective for now. After we secure a position at those batteries we will plan our next move. We still have to kill their command bunker, and the barracks, but killing those means nothing if we can't land a ship here." He paused again, he was really not one for speeches, but what else could he do? "Is everybody with me?" The twelve men before him, a far cry from their original numbers, slowly nodded, one by one, most knowing that they would likely never see their families again now.

"Yes sir sergeant." Jans spoke firmly, breaking the silence.

"You bet sarge." This time it was Raquad, Heller could see several men smirk, relieved by their comrades confidence in their sergeant.

"You've got us too Heller." Niko spoke, standing aside with Rich and Joren, the last surviving members of Sergeant Mikovichs squad. In other circumstances, Heller would have smiled. Desperate though the situation was, they might just survive it. He managed a grim smirk.

"Lets go then... " He hefted his rifle and turned, marching quickly for the loading doors dotting the southern face of the building.

"You heard him men, lets go! Get your asses up!" Jans shouted, marching after his sergeant, the rest of the mixed unit in tow. The thin aluminum doors on this side let quite a bit of noise through, and the chatter of the heavy anti-air vehicles filled the place. Heller shouted orders now.

"Alright, the emplacements should be just out of this building! They know we're here, but not how many of us and not that we're about to shoot the warp spawned shit out of 'em! When I say go, Raquad and Rich blow these two doors here with your GLs! The rest of us will start running before the smoke clears! You specweps hang back some and keep their heads down, whoever's last in line can help with that! "Grenades on the way in, clear their defense and don't give them any breathing room! Jans, you and I will sabotage the guns! Everyone listen up, if the corporal or I go down, it's up to one of you to take our place, those guns have to go!" He took a breath, looking at the now determined eyes of his men, he stepped away from the doors and the others did the same, "Men, what are we?"

"The hammer of the Emperor!" Came the chorus reply.

"On my mark! One... Two... MARK!" The grenade launchers spit their rounds with a load THUNK, shattering the thin loading dock doors outward in an explosion of smoke and metal fragments. True to orders, Heller and his men were leaping through the smoke before the fragments had touched the ground. Mickael hit the ground and ran flat out. He had been correct, two Hydra flak tanks sat in a dug out artillery pit, a tall, long range auspex antennae situated between them. There were roughly twenty meters between the loading docks and the pit, and the explosions had caught the attention of the guns defenders. Auto and las fire lanced into the oncoming squad, sporadic at first but quickly gaining in intensity. Heller fired several brief bursts from the hip as he ran, not expecting to hit anything, but hoping none the less that his shots had some effect. Another pair of loud thunks was quickly followed by explosions on the edge of the pits defenses. Mickael saw several unlucky heretics flung into the air by the force as others ducked down for cover. They were closing the gap quickly. He had a split second image of a crimson las bolt singing through the air, right before it hit him. Heller grunted in pain as he hit the ground, his right leg knocked from under him. The shot had failed to penetrate his body armour, but the force was sufficient to throw him off balance. He struck with his shoulder and rolled, scrambling to regain his footing. He looked up and was surprised to come face to face with a scar faced traitor rising from cover. Without thinking, Heller flung himself forward, tackling the man full on and driving him to the ground with crushing force to the floor of the dug in pit. Dazed and winded, the traitor was slow to react; he would never have a chance to redeem himself. His own impact cushioned by the body beneath him, Heller rose to his knees and fired a burst point blank at the defenders head, the gore mostly contained by its helmet. Without taking a moment to wipe his own face, the sergeant stood and swung his shouldered rifle around to fire a short, three round burst at another nearby traitor, who had just been surprised by the sudden death of its comrade. He turned before the body had dropped, searching for more targets. Mickael watched as trooper Niko dropped into the pit, then dropped to the ground as a heretic unloaded an auto pistol into his chest. Heller brought his rifle up and fired at the offender, making yet another kill in what was now a swirling melee.

"Jans! Get the tank!" He yelled at his corporal, fighting tooth and nail down the trench with his combat knife out. He turned, unable to confirm that his friend was following orders, but sure that he was. Corporal Jans was nothing if not reliable. He took off further down the pit, into the off shoot connecting to the nearest Hydra. Another defender stepped forward to challenge him, swinging a crude trench club at the sergeants head. Heller ducked under the blow, then jabbed his rifle butt into the mans gut, dropping him to his knees. He swung the gun again like a bat, connecting its heavy stock to his attackers skull. The opponent thumped to the ground, dead. Heller continued around the corner into the gun pit, leaving the bulk of the melee behind him. There seemed to be two squads worth of defenders, many more than he had hoped for. A frightened gun crewman looked up at the sergeants approach, and yelled what was probably a warning before bringing a handgun to bear. Heller didn't give the filthy heretic a chance to fire, and emptied the last few rounds from his rifle into him. He ran forward, dropping his spent rifle, not taking the time to reload for close quarters fighting. He placed a hand on the vehicles flank and swung himself up onto its track guard, while drawing his own pistol. He heard muffled shouting from inside the tanks open hatch and stepped forward, gun first, kicking the crewmen's body out of his way and off the side. A new enemy with the uniform of a tank commander hauled his torso out the hatch, surprised at Hellers unexpected proximity. His eyes widened as he attempted to draw his pistol. Heller pointed his right at the mans chest and pulled the trigger, just as he lost his footing on the blood slicked metal. Hundreds of black pinpricks exploded before his eyes as his ribs slammed into the angled armour of the tanks hull, his helmeted head rebounding from the turret rings ultra hardened surface. His shot went wide, burning a bloody hole into the tank commanders shoulder. Both men gasped for breath, both trying to regain their bearings before the other could react. Heller raised his pistol as quickly as his impaired senses allowed over the edge of the turret and fired rapidly even as his opponent did the same. He used his newfound breath to let out a yelp of pain as a high caliber auto pistol round tore through his upper arm. He continued pulling the trigger as fast as he could, the barrel glowing red hot as it emptied itself. He dragged himself up with his good arm, and looked into the lifeless eyes of the dead tank commander. He grunted in pain, clutching his injured arm, then dropped himself into the tank, pushing its late commander aside and taking the mans pistol, which, unlike his own, was not yet empty. A lone crew member sat inside at the controls, a terrified expression on his face as Heller brought the gun up and fired it's final two rounds into the operators forehead. Heller dropped the gun and reached into his webbing for his pair of krak grenades. Exploding inside the vehicles armour, the grenades would send the tank flying into the air and render it a steaming wreck, forever unusable. Heller started to pull the pins loose, but a blinking rune caught his attention. He shoved the operators corpse aside and studied the vehicles controls. He had never driven a tank before, but he had observed others, and the pattern for this particular vehicle was standard throughout much imperial space. More importantly, Heller was from a forge world, one which produced this very design. It was entirely possible that he had constructed parts for this machine, having worked at a weapons factory for nearly a decade before joining the guard. He dropped into the gunners seat as mad inspiration struck him. He ran his fingers over the controls, and wiped the blood from the screen. He recognized some of the symbols. There was the fuel gauge, the ammo counter, drive wheel... there. A panel marked "fire control". A blinking light told him the machine was set to auto fire, and would continuously shoot at any airborne target in an area designated by its controller. He jabbed at a few buttons, unsure how to deactivate the setting. He sighed in frustration, then punched the panel with his armoured gauntlet, instantly deactivating it. He grabbed hold of the fire control yokes, instantly activating the targeting screen. The camera mounted in between the quad linked auto cannons provided a view of the area immediately ahead of the guns overlaid with a HUD display and target reticule. This part was just like simulator games Mickael had played as a child. He activated his vox bead.

"Everyone get away from the tanks! Right the hell now!" He shouted as he traversed the turret. He smirked as the reticule settled itself over the second Hydra. Heller depressed the firing studs and was rewarded by the deafening blast of the quad gun. Brilliant tracer fire lanced into the tanks lighter side armour, ripping jagged holes through its steel skin shattering its inner workings. Heller tracked the guns toward the vehicles rear, and a massive explosion shook the ground as the AA platforms fuel tanks detonated, sending the turret flying hundreds of feet into the air and setting off its remaining ammunition. Hellers tank rocked as a stray round ricocheted off its armour, but he was already traversing again. Next to fall was the auspex tower, which had warned the traitors well in advance of the airborne assault. The steel framework toppled as high explosive rounds tore away its supports. Heller was laughing despite himself, exhilarated by the destruction of the enemies' emplacements. The towers fall displaced a unit of troops occupying an adjacent building, and Heller fired into their ranks as they retreated, shredding the few men the heavy weapon hit and demoralizing them further. He realized with some satisfaction that they were retreating straight toward the command bunker, obviously not comprehending what was going on and seeking orders from a superior. Seeing an opportunity to complete another objective, Mickael opened fire on the thick concrete walls of the bases control bunker, watching as its damage resistant walls slowly chipped away under the onslaught. Finally overwhelmed, the wall collapsed, leaving its occupants unprotected against the firestorm. It was over only a few seconds later. Heller slumped into the gunners chair, the sounds of battle outside greatly diminished. He spun as he heard the approach of armoured boots across the hull. Trooper Hall, a young soldier from Hellers own hometown, looked around the bloody interior of the tank as Heller sat back, breathing heavily, trying to stop the bleeding of his arm.

"Holy fething shit Mick... ."